By Gergely Szakacs
BUDAPEST, Hungary (Reuters) - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has never made any secret of his desire for warm ties with Russia and President Vladimir Putin.
But five weeks before the toughest election the 58-year-old has faced in his 12 years in power, that friendship looks likely to cost him votes among young people upset at Putin's war on Hungary's neighbour Ukraine.
"He has been rather two-faced," said Dora Bicskei, 22, who joined an opposition protest against the Russian invasion on Thursday at the Russian embassy in Budapest. "We sympathise with the EU and with Putin at the same time ... it was to be expected that at some point those two things would clash."
"I'd prefer us to side with the European Union."
Only a fifth of voters under 29 back Orban's conservative Fidesz party, which draws most of its support from older and rural voters.
But Gabor Torok, a political analyst, wrote on his Facebook page that the war in Ukraine might alienate even some of those older voters.
He said the common wisdom held that an external crisis generally helped the ruling party.
"But this is not necessarily true of the present situation," he wrote.
"The war nearby is triggering unpredictable reactions, fuelling emotions ... After a long time, for the first time, on an important issue, Fidesz' voters could be divided."
Ahead of the April 3 election, Orban holds only a slim opinion poll lead over an opposition that has for the first time not only united against him - but also found a leading candidate, Peter Marki-Zay, who can appeal to conservatives.
'MAN OF WAR'
Marki-Zay's six-party alliance has accused Orban, who visited Putin in Moscow less than four weeks ago, of "making friends with the man of war".
Orban asked for more Russian gas under a long-term supply deal but also cast his trip as a "peace mission".
He has condemned Russia's invasion - which Putin said was intended to end the West's anti-Russian influence on Ukraine - and says he supports a united EU stance on sanctions.
But Orban also told public radio after the Moscow trip that today's "new Russia" was different from the Soviet Union, whose tanks in 1956 crushed a Hungarian uprising against domination from Moscow, and that his ties with Putin were paying off.
Last week, shortly after Orban's trip, some young voters in the university town of Szeged said the trip was a mistake amid the escalating crisis.
"Russia has the same autocratic leadership and they pursue a very aggressive foreign policy, which we should not be aligning with," said 22-year-old Otto Schober, studying employment law and communications. "Being an EU citizen is an enormous honour."
He was handing out leaflets and stickers supporting Marki-Zay.
"I think Russia has remained the same," said 19-year-old Szabolcs Adorjani, who will vote for the first time in April. "I couldn't really trust them because they are unpredictable."
Fidesz's youth movement, Fidelitas, did not return repeated requests for interviews with Orban supporters.
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Kevin Liffey)